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Making the call of whether painting is an art or a craft/trade is fairly easy. Someone painting portraits or landscapes or modern, abstract creations is making art. Someone painting walls or toys is practicing a trade. If they’re really skilled, you might call it a craft.

Making the same call for writing can be tricky. Are all books art? Is art a fiction/poetry/plays/memoir thing, or can other non-fiction books qualify? Is a beautiful cookbook art? What about pieces of writing that aren’t books at all, like handwritten letters?

The Walters Art Museum looks at these questions, makes a thoughtful face, and decides to do something completely different when it comes to the intersection of writing and art. I spent a Saturday afternoon with Andrew, checking out “The Art of the Writing Instrument.” Turns out, there have been artists for centuries, around the world, creating jeweled boxes for writing instruments, or writing tablets with paintings and poems meant to inspire, or exquisitely carved and jeweled quills and pens and ink bottles. Whether the user of these items wrote poetry, letters, or just doodles, someone believed enough in the power of words to make the tools beautiful.

Imagine keeping your ballpoint in this.

I found it at once inspiring and a little disconcerting to see all these rare, hyperexpensive versions of the tools I would use. Part of me wanted to go home and stick rhinestones all over an old necklace box and have my own beautified inkholder (later I remembered that I don’t use ink and am not particularly crafty, so don’t hold your breath for that project). Another part of me balked at the thought of writing with something that’s probably worth well in excess of a year’s rent. I grew up with the romanticized Starving Writer idea, the “room with a view” and cheap paper and pencils being all you needed to create something special.

What I think it comes down to, though, is the idea of consecrating writing. The artists behind the Walters exhibit work in a physical medium, so they consecrate the physical paraphernalia of writing. Many blog posts and books I’ve read talk about reserving a time to write that no one can touch–that’s consecration, too. It’s nice to think that whether or not I end up with something artistic on the page, there are people who find that simple act of creation beautiful, in and of itself.

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